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John Daly, Noelle Pikus-Pace enjoy fastest runs at skeleton U.S. team trials

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PARK CITY — Skeleton racer John Daly said the secret to his success this season is gratitude.

"I guess I'm just kind of enjoying it," said Daly, who was the fastest skeleton racer in Thursday's team trials at the Utah Olympic Park. The victory was his fourth consecutive win, and it earned himself a spot on the National Team.

"You know, sometimes when you're have a day when it's raining or really hot, and you don't want to slide?" he said collecting congratulations from other competitors. "Well I guess I started thinking about it, and we get to slide when it's sunny; we get to slide when it's raining; we get to go sleigh riding. That's not a bad job. So I'm just trying to enjoy it."

Daly had both the fastest individual run time and the fastest combined time as he navigated the track twice in 1:39.06. Kyle Tress was second with a combined time of 1:39.85 and Brad Stewart was third with a time of 1:39.88.

On the women's side, Orem native Noelle Pikus-Pace thrilled the large, loud crowd that came out to support the athletes when she earned her fourth consecutive win with a combined time of 1:41.99. Park City's Kimber Gabryszak was second with a time of 1:42.51; and Savannah Graybill was third with a time of 1:43.21.

Both Daly, a 12-year veteran of the sport, and Pikus-Pace, who came out of a nearly three-year retirement this summer, said they are pushing faster and running the track quicker than they ever have in their careers.

"It's my best pushing, my best sliding," said Daly, an All-American decathlete who competed for Plattsburgh State University. "Consistency wins the races. Two second places might get me the win more than a first and an eighth.."

Daly was introduced to skeleton when his middle school gym teacher convinced him to try out for luge. He went to the competition near his home town in Long Island, N.Y., and made the team. Shortly after that, he saw the skeleton athletes training and decided to make the switch.

"I liked it better," he said with a grin. "You run at the beginning and I was always faster. So it looked more appealing, and it felt more natural to go head first than going feet first."

Both Daly and Pikus-Pace competed in 2010, with Daly finishing 17th and Pikus-Pace finishing fourth. Both have goals that include another run at representing the U.S. at the Olympics, but like their teammates, they have to do well in these team trials to even have a shot at making a World Cup team.

"I have to have five international races on three different tracks," said Pikus-Pace of what she needs to do to qualify for the World Cup team.

She credits her quick push times to a new strength and conditioning coach, and the ability to push with one hand, something she couldn't do after an accident on the track broke her leg just before the 2006 Olympics. When she competed in 2010, she pushed with two hands because her leg couldn't take the weight of a one-handed start.

She just decided to try the one-handed push in Lake Placid and she hasn't lost a race since.

"When I'm pushing, I still feel like there is a lot I can learn," said Pikus-Pace. "There are still things I can pick up."

The team will head back to Lake Placid, N.Y., for the first World Cup of the season. There is another race at the Utah Olympic Park on Nov. 7-10 — the FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton North American Cup.

Roster finalized

Men: Matt Antoine, John Daly and Kyle Tress

Women: Katie Uhlaender, Kimber Gabryszak (Noelle-Pikus Pace was granted a waiver, but still must race in two North American Cup events.)

EMAIL: adonaldson@desnews.com